Buying a new PC is an exciting business, but it also poses a problem - what do you do with your old one? If it’s very old, then simply taking it to your local authority’s recycling centre is the best option. Most will accept both computers and monitors, but make sure you securely erase any personal data before disposing of any installed storage devices.
Throwing away a working PC is a bit of a waste, though. Here are some options for putting it to good use.
1. Sell it
Selling something you no longer use makes a lot of sense, but do some research before trying to sell yours.
eBay is a great place to start, so either search for auctions for your same make and model, or look for PCs of a similar specification and see what they’re selling for. If sale prices seem low compared to what you paid when the PC was new, there’s little you can do.
PCs don’t tend to hold their value that well and those beyond a certain age are effectively worthless. So don't be too dismayed if you can’t get a good price for yours — although a private sale through your local paper’s small ads may raise more money than an auction, of course.
Just be sure to securely erase all personal data from any storage devices before you sell, sign out of any online accounts and delete your Windows user account. Or, better still, reformat the hard drive and reinstall a fresh copy of Windows from scratch. If you’re advertising the PC for sale with certain software, you’ll also need to include the relevant install discs.
2. Give it to a family member or friend
Just because an old PC has no monetary value doesn’t mean it’s not still useful to someone. As long as it still works, a family member or friend may be able to put it to good use, particularly if they can’t otherwise afford to buy one.
This can also be great for elderly friends or neighbours who want to try using a PC for the first time, but don’t want to buy one in case they don’t get on with it. An old and slow PC is often enough to give them a taste of the web and get them started, but you may need to make a few necessary changes if using Windows XP. And, again, be sure to wipe any personal data beforehand.
The only catch with this option is that by giving a PC to someone, you usually become the unofficial technical support person when problems arise. You might find helping someone with their first steps into the world of computing quite satisfying, or you might find fielding tech support phone calls every other day to be a pain in the bum. So be warned.
You can use an application like TeamViewer to make this process as painless as possible. This software lets you access the PC's screen from another machine, so you can see what the problem is without them having to talk you through it.
3. Donate it
If no one you know needs an old PC, try asking a local school or a charitable organisation, such as Age UK. Working computers of any age can be in demand at establishments that are short of funds for new ones, since even an old PC can give new users valuable experience with the web, and simple applications like Microsoft Word or Excel.
A school might also be interested in an old computer simply to take apart in practical classes. If nothing else, they might be better placed to pass it on to someone else who might have a use for it.
4. Use it to run a distributed computing project
If you don’t mind hanging onto your old PC and instead donating some electricity to a good cause, why not use it to run a distributed computing project?
Distributed computing relies on computers around the world donating their ‘spare’ time to performing calculations to help with scientific projects, from searching for a cure for cancer to searching for life on other planets.
There’s nothing to stop you putting an old PC to work on such a project full-time, however, and you just need to download and install some free software for the purpose.
Setting up is relatively straightforward, but it can sometimes take some figuring out — though some would say that’s part of the fun. You can see a list of current distributed computing projects at www.distributedcomputing.info. There’s nothing to stop you signing up for two or more, though the calculations can be quite taxing, so multiple projects may cause problems for older PCs.
5. Salvage it for spare parts
Just because a PC is all but useless in its intact state doesn’t mean its component parts can’t be put to good use.
For desktop PCs, that obviously means the monitor, keyboard and mouse, but there’s nothing to stop you opening the case and stripping out any components to use in your new PC. Simply installing your old hard drive in your new PC as a secondary D: drive is much quicker than trying to transfer your files by another method, for example.
Laptops aren’t quite so easy to recycle piecemeal, but memory can be reused and even a 2.5-inch laptop hard drive can be converted into a portable USB drive with a suitable external enclosure kit.
6. Use it to practice PC building
If you ever wanted to build your own desktop PC, a good way to start is by taking one apart and putting it back together. The inside of a computer case may seem like a daunting tangle of cables and complicated parts, but they’re really highly modular systems that can be disassembled in a matter of minutes. Once you know how it all fits together, that is.
Just remember to take the necessary safety precautions: unplug it from the mains, ground yourself against static electricity and never disassemble the power supply. Use the appropriate tools, too.
There’s really little that can go wrong as long as you’re careful and follow one of the many online guides to computer building. But if you do make a dreadful mistake and end up breaking something, it doesn’t matter with an old PC — and you’ll still have learned a valuable lesson for any future projects.